As Brands Dig Deeper Into Social Data, Twitter Opens Up To Third-Party Developers

reef2Brands know the importance of images or videos uploaded by fans and customers on social media. But for many, it’s like dying of thirst surrounded by the ocean.

Relevant content might exist on Instagram and Twitter, but it’s meaningless without a filter – that is, if a poster doesn’t tag or mention your business.

Even with social media managers on location at each hotel, Loews Hotels “realized we were really limited in what we could look through with our monitoring streams,” said Piper Stevens, the chain’s senior director of marketing communications.

The luxury hotel chain brought on Ground Signal, a location-based social media tool for targeting users. The startup’s technology geofences distinct locations, allowing brands to absorb the content and users who are posting within that boundary.

The idea that brands were missing out on valuable content because they weren’t tagged or mentioned in a post inspired David Rose to cofound Ditto Labs, a company that raised a $4 million Series A this month with the goal of applying “military-grade image recognition” to social media monitoring.

Ditto Labs will go through the entire ocean of raw photos with its image recognition capabilities to sort pictures that feature certain brands, scenes or context. (So it could be, say, “at a music show” or “drinking a Red Bull.”)

Of course, the ability to mine this data hinges on whether vendors can latch into various social media networks. If Twitter or Instagram decides to batten down the hatches, it and its clients will find themselves cut off.

Twitter ecosystem head Zach Hofer-Shall, who manages what he describes as a coral reef ecosystem built off Twitter APIs, said the company has looked to aggressively expand the tools developers have at their disposal.

The reason the coral reef metaphor is favored for social media APIs is because it underscores the delicate balance of the community. In 2012, Twitter abruptly shut down all access to its developer API, a move that would terminate companies like Ground Signal and Ditto Labs if repeated.

Hofer-Shall said he understands why some third-party developers feel uncomfortable – it’s never good for a business when a group that doesn’t care about its success has the power to turn out the lights.

“Until a year and a half ago, to be completely honest, this wasn’t something we paid enough attention to,” he said.

Ground Signal founder and CEO Tony Longo doesn’t expect Twitter to pivot like it did in 2012. Dick Costolo, the CEO who oversaw that decision, has been removed (and many cited his antagonism of third-party developers as a reason for the sudden departure).

“There’s a much deeper sense here that the developer community is what makes a platform, and being that platform is now a strategic imperative,” said Hofer-Shall.

Besides the advantages of extending Twitter’s services and indirectly feeding ad sales, Longo also noted that startups feel more comfortable in their precarious position because social media platforms like Twitter have ramped up communications with developers. He said the open social media platforms “clearly see us as an asset now.”

Longo described Twitter’s change of heart toward developers as going from the flies surrounding a buffalo to the fish that live symbiotically off of a shark. He also noted that Twitter now sees its third-party developers as an important acquisition pool for talent and technology.

For instance, Joaquim Vergès was hired by Twitter earlier this month as his Android app Falcon Pro III, an enhanced Twitter dashboard, gained popular acclaim. Hiring Vergès, who had publicly condemned and flaunted Twitter’s third-party restrictions in the past, is the latest in Twitter’s diplomatic efforts to rebuild a better relationship with developers.

The VC investment in Ditto Labs is itself an affirmation from informed observers that third-party developers have established themselves as core elements of Instagram and Twitter’s platforms. Longo echoed the same idea, claiming VCs are less concerned over data restrictions than they were even six months ago.

Hofer-Shall even noted that his team briefs Twitter sales and product teams, so they understand how advertisers might be able to deploy the services from the platform’s developer community.

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